There is no contradiction between the proposed amendment to the Israeli Basic Law—which affirms the state of Israel’s Jewish identity—and the country’s democratic value system, said a representative of the Institute for Zionist Strategies (IZS).
The proposed amendment to the Israeli Basic Law, which seeks to uphold the essence of the Land of Israel as “the historic homeland of the Jewish people and the birthplace of the State of Israel” is not a novel idea, but was “inspired by the Israeli Declaration of Independence”, said Adi Arbel, project manager for the IZS.
Commenting on the initiative revealed Monday by Coalition Chairman Yariv Levin (Likud Beitenu), Arbel maintained that the concepts of a Jewish state and a democratic state are not antithetical, but rather affirm the original intent behind the Declaration of Independence, as initially proposed by first Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion.
The new bill amends a previous version introduced by former Kadima MP Avi Dichter in November 2011 which similarly declared Israel "the national home of the Jewish People, wherein the Jewish People fulfills its aspiration for self-determination in accordance with its historical and cultural heritage."
“This is a Jewish state that’s a democracy, not a democracy with some Jewish elements,” said MK Levin, commenting Monday on the proposal. “We need to strengthen these principles, and give them legal priority,” he maintained.
The bill calls for Jewish tradition to be the guiding force behind laws and court rulings, granting priority to the inherent Jewish character of the country.
It further establishes Hebrew as the official national language, but allows the Knesset the ability to grant secondary status to other commonly used languages.
There are currently eleven Israeli basic laws, said Arbel, noting that 9 of the 11 attest to Israel’s democratic nature. None of the laws, however, have yet sought to safeguard the state’s Jewish character and identity, he said.
In the founding years of the state there was a great deal of deliberation as to whether Israel should implement a British-inspired legal system which would not contain a formal constitution, as proposed by David Ben-Gurion, or whether writing a formal constitution would be an imperative step in maintaining the fledgling democracy, as advocated by the leader of the opposition Herut party and Zionist visionary, Menachem Begin.
In 1950 the Knesset arrived at a compromise and accepted the Harari Decision, which stipulated that rather than drafting a comprehensive Constitution, it would write chapters in various stages and later compile them into an inclusive document.
Known as the Israeli Basic Laws, the Knesset passed nine laws that dealt with the structure and authority of the government during the fist decades of the state. In 1992, however, the Knesset passed "Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty" and "Basic Law: Freedom of Occupation”, which for the first time dealt with human rights.
These laws vastly expanded the power of the Israeli judiciary to impede legislation that it claims conflicts with the principles articulated in the two Basic Laws.
Since then, the Supreme Court, under the auspices of Justice Aharon Barak, has sought to create a paradigm in which Israel’s Jewish nature and democratic nature are diametrically opposed, said Arbel.
The state’s Jewish identity does not undermine its democratic value system, nor does its democratic value system impede its Jewish growth, Arbel explained. The two ideals are not only completely compatible, but are inspired by the vision and foresight of the founding Zionist leaders to safeguard their original intent of securing a Jewish and democratic homeland, he said.